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Timo Harakka’s challenge: to increase employment in Finland
Portrait

Timo Harakka’s challenge: to increase employment in Finland

| Text: Bengt Östling, photo: Laura Kotila, Finnish government offices

Much is expected from the new Finnish Minister of Employment Timo Harakka. His background is unusual for a politician. The ministerial post came as a surprise to him too. As an MP he focused on the economy and the environment.

The government programme, agreed in June, is called ‘Inclusive and competent Finland’. Minister of Employment Timo Harakka says this sums up what work means to people and society. 

Finland aims for an employment rate of of75%. That might be challenging in a country where access to labour and businesses’ recruitment challenges are growing problems. The current employment rate stands at 72.4%. 

Harakka has underlined that the government programme aims to increase participation in the labour market for those who are partially capable of working, those who are difficult to employ, young people, older people and people with immigrant backgrounds. 

Time spent in the labour market must increase – at the beginning, in the middle and towards the end, the programme says. Finland, like the other Nordic countries, wants to move from a passive to an active labour market policy. 

Broad Social Democrat-led government coalition

The appointment of Harakka as Minister of Employment came as a surprise in the wake of the April general election. The post was initially offered to the chairman of the Social Democratic Parliamentary Group, Antti Lindtman, who declined the offer for family reasons. 

The Social Democrats came in, while the National Coalition Party went out of government and the Finns Party carries on in opposition. Despite suffering great losses, the Centre Party remained, but had to give up the role as coalition leader and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä had to vacate his offices.

The Centre Party elected Katri Kulmuni as new party leader in early September. She is the new government’s Minister for Economic Affairs. Her party colleague Antti Kaikkonen is the new Minister of Defence.

There are three more coalition members; the Left Alliance, the Green League and the Swedish People’s Party.

A colourful minister

Harakka could have been prime minister by now. He ran for the party leadership during the  2017 Social Democrat Party (SDP) congress, but lost by a big margin to Antti Rinne. His campaign was seen as crucial to secure a more senior position within the party, which he has now succeeded in getting.  

The SDP congress was not convinced by the new MP Harakka’s demands for reforms. Some also felt it was mostly empty, albeit competent, rhetoric. 

Harakka will probably benefit from his training in theatre and drama as well as his comprehensive TV experience. He is well known for colourful initiatives and statements.

Not long ago he described Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament as “incredible”, and compared the situation to Finland. The Brits take great pride in their parliamentarism. Closing down the British Parliament is like banning saunas in Finland, wrote Harakka in a tweet.

Finnish Minister of Employment since June 2019

Name: Timo Harakka

Age: 56

First language: Sign language, Finnish

  • Grew up with deaf adoptive parents in the forestry centre of Äänekoski. Married to the Estonia expert Anu Laitila, with whom he has three children.
  • MP for the Social Democrats since 2015. Before that, he was active in the Green League.
  • Master of Arts in theatre and drama. He has worked as a musician and cartoonist.
  • Journalist and author, including 17 years as a TV journalist and presenter of YLE’s debate programme.
  • Takes over from Jari Lindström, whose party “Blue Reform” has lost all its seats in parliament.
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